Definition of speak verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



    BrE BrE//spiːk//
    ; NAmE NAmE//spiːk//
    Verb Forms present simple I / you / we / they speak
    BrE BrE//spiːk//
    ; NAmE NAmE//spiːk//
    he / she / it speaks
    BrE BrE//spiːks//
    ; NAmE NAmE//spiːks//
    past simple spoke
    BrE BrE//spəʊk//
    ; NAmE NAmE//spoʊk//
    past participle spoken
    BrE BrE//ˈspəʊkən//
    ; NAmE NAmE//ˈspoʊkən//
    -ing form speaking
    BrE BrE//ˈspiːkɪŋ//
    ; NAmE NAmE//ˈspiːkɪŋ//
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    have conversation
  1. 1  [intransitive] to talk to somebody about something; to have a conversation with somebody speak (to somebody) (about something/somebody) I've spoken to the manager about it. The President refused to speak to the waiting journalists. ‘Can I speak to Susan?’ ‘Speaking.’ (= at the beginning of a telephone conversation) ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Not to speak to.’ (= only by sight) I saw her in the street but we didn't speak. (especially North American English) speak (with somebody) (about something/somebody) Can I speak with you for a minute? Synonymstalkdiscuss speak communicate debate consultThese words all mean to share news, information, ideas or feelings with another person or other people, especially by talking with them.talk to speak in order to give information, express feelings or share ideas:We talked on the phone for over an hour.discuss (rather formal) to talk and share ideas on a subject or problem with other people, especially in order to decide something:Have you discussed the problem with anyone? You cannot say ‘discuss about something’:I’m not prepared to discuss about this on the phone.speak to talk to somebody about something; to have a conversation with somebody:I’ve spoken to the manager about it. ‘Can I speak to Susan?’ ‘Speaking.’ (= at the beginning of a telephone conversation)talk or speak?Speak can suggest a more formal level of communication than talk. You speak to somebody about something to try to achieve a particular goal or to tell them to do something. You talk to somebody in order to be friendly or to ask their advice:Have you talked to your parents about the problems you’re having? I’ve spoken to Ed about it and he’s promised not to let it happen again.communicate (rather formal) to exchange information or ideas with somebody:We only communicate by email. Dolphins use sound to communicate with each other. Communicate is often used when the speaker wants to draw attention to the means of communication used.debate to discuss something, especially formally, before making a decision or finding a solution:Politicians will be debating the bill later this week.consult (rather formal) to discuss something with somebody in order to get their permission for something, or to help you make a decision:You shouldn’t have done it without consulting me.Patterns to talk/​discuss something/​speak/​communicate/​debate/​consult with somebody to talk/​speak to somebody to talk/​speak to somebody/​consult somebody about something to talk/​speak of something
  2. use voice
  3. 2  [intransitive] to use your voice to say something He can't speak because of a throat infection. Please speak more slowly. Without speaking, she stood up and went out. He speaks with a strange accent. She has a beautiful speaking voice.
  4. mention/describe
  5. 3  [intransitive] speak of/about something/somebody to mention or describe something/somebody She still speaks about him with great affection. Witnesses spoke of a great ball of flame. Speaking of travelling, (= referring back to a subject just mentioned) are you going anywhere exciting this year? The brochure speaks of beautiful secluded grounds. Synonymsmentionrefer to somebody/​something speak cite quoteThese words all mean to write or speak about somebody/​something, often in order to give an example or prove something.mention to write or speak about something/​somebody, especially without giving much information:Nobody mentioned anything to me about it.refer to somebody/​something (rather formal) to mention or speak about somebody/​something:I promised not to refer to the matter again. speak to mention or describe somebody/​something:Witnesses spoke of a great ball of flame.cite (formal) to mention something as a reason or an example, or in order to support what you are saying:He cited his heavy workload as the reason for his breakdown.quote to mention an example of something to support what you are saying:Can you quote me an instance of when this happened?cite or quote? You can cite reasons or examples, but you can only quote examples:He quoted his heavy workload as the reason for his breakdown. Cite is a more formal word than quote and is often used in more formal situations, for example in descriptions of legal cases.Patterns to mention/​refer to/​speak of/​cite/​quote somebody/​something as somebody/​something to mention/​refer to/​cite/​quote a(n) example/​instance/​case of something frequently/​often mentioned/​referred to/​spoken of/​cited/​quoted the example mentioned/​referred to/​cited/​quoted above/​earlier/​previously
  6. a language
  7. 4  [transitive] (not used in the progressive tenses) speak something to be able to use a particular language to speak several languages to speak a little Urdu Do you speak English?
  8. 5  [transitive, intransitive] to use a particular language to express yourself speak something What language is it they're speaking? speak in something Would you prefer it if we spoke in German?
  9. -speaking
  10. 6(in adjectives) speaking the language mentioned French-speaking Canada non-English-speaking students
  11. make speech
  12. 7  [intransitive] (+ adv./prep.) to make a speech to an audience to speak in public to speak on the radio to speak at a conference Professor Wilson was invited to speak about the results of his research. She spoke in favour of the new tax. He has a number of speaking engagements this week. Wordfinderargument, ayes, chair, debate, the floor, motion, propose, second, speak, vote
  13. say/state
  14. 8[transitive] speak something to say or state something She was clearly speaking the truth. He spoke the final words of the play.
  15. Word OriginOld English sprecan, later specan, of West Germanic origin; related to Dutch spreken and German sprechen.Word Familyspeak verbspeaker nounspeech nounspoken adjective (unspoken)Extra examples Ed and Dave aren’t speaking at the moment. Everyone should have the right to speak their mind. He lost his ability to speak. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He speaks German fluently. He speaks very warmly of you. He spoke out against mismanagement. He will be speaking to history students about the causes of war. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him. I heard him speak at the debating society. I need to speak to Joseph about this matter. I speak for all my colleagues. I speak on behalf of many thousands of women. I’m speaking from experience, having been there often. No one had ever dared speak to him like that before. She opened her mouth to speak and found she couldn’t. She speaks on women’s issues. She spoke eloquently about the need for action. She was invited to speak at a Harvard conference. She was so moved she could hardly speak. Speaking of Brett, why isn’t he here? The ability to speak another language is a valued skill. The main character speaks directly into the camera. They had the courage to speak the truth. We are still on speaking terms after the argument. We spoke briefly on the phone. Would you prefer it if we spoke in French? You must speak loudly and clearly on the stage. learning to speak a foreign language ‘Can I speak to Susan?’ ‘Speaking.’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Not to speak to.’. He can’t speak because of a throat infection. He was so afraid of breaking down he couldn’t trust himself to speak. I’ve spoken to Ed about it and he’s promised not to let it happen again. I’ve spoken to the manager about it. She speaks several languages/​a little Urdu/​an unusual dialect. Speaking of travelling, are you going anywhere exciting this year? What language are they speaking in?Idioms
    actions speak louder than words
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    (saying) what a person actually does means more than what they say they will do
    be on speaking terms (with somebody), be speaking (to somebody)
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    to be willing to be polite or friendly towards somebody, especially after an argument She's not been on speaking terms with her uncle for years. Are they speaking to each other again yet?
    the facts speak for themselves
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    it is not necessary to give any further explanation about something because the information that is available already proves that it is true
    generally, broadly, roughly, relatively, etc. speaking
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    used to show that what you are saying is true in a general, etc. way Generally speaking, the more you pay, the more you get. There are, broadly speaking, two ways of doing this. Personally speaking, I've always preferred Italian food. Language BankgenerallyWays of saying ‘in general’ Women generally earn less than men. Generally speaking, jobs traditionally done by women are paid at a lower rate than those traditionally done by men. In general/By and large, women do not earn as much as men. Certain jobs, like nursing and cleaning, are still mainly carried out by women. Senior management posts are predominantly held by men. Most senior management posts tend to be held by men. Women are, for the most part, still paid less than men. Economic and social factors are, to a large extent, responsible for women being concentrated in low-paid jobs.
    in a manner of speaking
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    if you think about it in a particular way; true in some but not all ways All these points of view are related, in a manner of speaking.
    no…/nothing to speak of
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    such a small amount that it is not worth mentioning They've got no friends to speak of. She's saved a little money but nothing to speak of.
    used to emphasize that you are expressing something in an unusual or amusing way They were all very similar. All cut from the same cloth, so to speak.
    speak for itself/themselves
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    to be so easy to see and understand that you do not need to say anything else about it/them Her success speaks for itself. Recent events speak for themselves.
    speak for myself/herself/himself, etc.
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    to express what you think or want yourself, rather than somebody else doing it for you I'm quite capable of speaking for myself, thank you!
    (informal) used to tell somebody that a general statement they have just made is not true of you ‘We didn't play very well.’ ‘Speak for yourself!’ (= I think that I played well.)
    speak/think ill of somebody
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    (formal) to say or think bad things about somebody Don't speak ill of the dead.
    used to say that you are the type of person mentioned and are expressing your opinion from that point of view Speaking as a parent, I'm very concerned about standards in education. to say exactly what you think, in a very direct way She’s never hesitated about speaking her mind.
    speak/talk of the devil
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    (informal) people say speak/talk of the devil when somebody they have been talking about appears unexpectedly Well, speak of the devil—here's Alice now!
    to say something when you should not, for example because it is not the right time or you are not the right person to say it to say something that you should not because it is the wrong situation or because it offends somebody
    speak/talk the same language
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    to be able to communicate easily with another person because you share similar opinions and experience
    speak volumes (about/for something/somebody)
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    to tell you a lot about something/somebody, without the need for words His achievement speaks volumes for his determination. What you wear speaks volumes about you.
    speak well/ill of somebody
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    (formal) to say good or bad things about somebody She never speaks ill of anyone.
    if you are using words or rules in their exact or correct sense Strictly speaking, the book is not a novel, but a short story. Using the word in that context is not, strictly speaking, correct.
    Phrasal Verbsspeak for somebodyspeak of somethingspeak out (against something)speak to somebody (about something)speak to somebodyspeak to somethingspeak upspeak up
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: speak